"I want a cheap hotel," was the request she gave me.
I told her that "cheap" in New York...especially Manhattan...would be well north of $100 per night if she wanted her own bathroom. She let me know that would be too much and to find something cheaper.
An extensive search throughout the island of Manhattan revealed little. The best I could find was the Hotel Penn on sale at $109 per night. Too much, find something cheaper came the command.
After much bickering and back-and-forth, I found a Howard Johnson's in East Orange, New Jersey for $49 per night (after a senior discount because $52 was too much).
The first night there, "How could you put me in this neighborhood? This is awful!"
She checked out and found better, more expensive, hotel that was more to her liking.
The problem here is that my mom was concerned about one thing, and one thing only - the price. The money you spend on a hotel is one thing but you need to take in the whole picture to make sure you're getting the best value for your lodging.
What was wrong for my mom? The hotel was in a bad neighborhood and she didn't feel safe. It was cheap, but not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.
So don't go on price alone to see if your hotel is a bargain. Here are some things to consider...
As in my mom's case, check to see if the hotel you're interested in is in a good area. If you don't know what the good and bad areas are ahead of time, check review sites such as Tripadvisor.com and Yelp.com to help you out.
Are the rooms nice and big enough for you? The hotel website or travel sites like Expedia.com and Hotels.com can help you here. Pay attention to the description. Do you sleep on a king size bed at home? My wife and I do and a full size or double bed is just not going to cut it for us, we need at least a queen size to feel comfortable on. Are you traveling with kids? Check to make sure there will be enough bedding for them too. Many rooms now include sofabeds that can come in handy for kids to sleep on as well.
Will there be food included? A lot of hotels will throw a few snacks on the table in the lobby and call it breakfast...usually a "continental" breakfast. Some will include a full breakfast with cooked eggs, meat, fruit, breads, and more. In Bakersfield, I can pay $60 a night for a small room with little to no amenities at the Motel 6 or I can pay $80 a night for a suite at Springhill Suites that includes a full breakfast, among other goodies...which one is the better bargain?
Are there affordable restaurants in the area? Within walking distance? A check on Yelp.com will show you a map of the area, the restaurants nearby (with price points), and reviews.
Do you want to swim? It's pretty easy to find a pool in the United States, other countries might be a bit more of a challenge but think twice...is the weather going to be nice enough to pay a premium for it? Is it an indoor pool that might be filled with noisy kids, echoing off of the walls? Can you get a nice hotel without a pool for less? (Also note that in the U.S., at least, it is mandatory now for hotels and motels to have pool lifts for those with mobility issues)
Another consideration is how noisy a hotel is. This may be hard to ascertain before you get there but review sites can help out here. Also, pay attention to the description...exterior hallways are usually noisier than interior halls. A hotel I stayed at recently boasted about its hardwood floors which, we found out, amplified and echoed noise...carpet eats a lot of sound.
Beware of hotels that also "boost" the room to more than it is. A junior suite is usually just a room. We stayed in one that the only thing that made it a suite was a small, 3 foot tall wall between the bed and couch.' We've even had rooms listed as suites where it is just a room. Maybe a bit larger than normal, but just a room. Look for 'two room suites' in the description.
Lastly, look for extras included in the room that will make it cheaper or easier to go on vacation. A kitchenette with a stove and refrigerator will allow you to cook some of your meals, saving money on restaurants. A hair dryer means you can leave yours home...ditto with an ironing board and iron. Is parking included? Is there a resort fee? If so, what does it cover? One of the Holy Grails of hotel amenities is a washer and dryer in your room.
Hotel loyalty programs can come in handy, too, if you find a chain that you tend to stay in more than others. Hilton, a chain we're currently accumulating with, throws in a ever-expanding list of perks as you accumulate points like free premium wifi, free room upgrades, late checkout, free bottled water and snacks, extra points and free nights with extended stays as you work your way up the latter.
Check with the hotel you're staying at and see about getting a loyalty account. They're free and can add up over time.
These are just a few things to consider when deciding what a bargain is in a hotel. Would a $60 room at the local Super 8 or TraveLodge be as good as paying $80 - 90 for a room that has some or all of the amenities listed above?
Keep that in mind when booking your next room.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
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